A high school in western Germany is barring Muslim students from praying in the open, later saying the religious display is “provocative” to other pupils.
The Gymnasium Johannes Rau in Wuppertal circulated a letter to staff in February asking them to “identify” and “report” Muslim students found praying on school premises, according to local reports.
“Over the past few weeks, it has increasingly been observed that Muslim students are praying visibly in the school building, signaled by ritual washings in the bathrooms, the rolling out of prayer rugs, and the taking of certain body postures,” said the note, translated by HuffPost. “This is not permitted. “
The measure was introduced after “several teachers and students felt themselves under pressure due to the behavior of the classmates,” Dagmar Gross, a spokesperson for the local district council, told German outlet Deutsche Welle.
The letter instructed staff to “identify the names” and “report” any Muslim students found disobeying the ban, and it encouraged other students to remind their Muslim peers of the rule in a “friendly” manner.
Gross said “the ban on praying in a provocative way in the school is intended to promote peaceful coexistence and ensure the school peace.”
The spokesperson didn’t elaborate on what made the students’ prayer “provocative.”
Gross admitted to DW that the note included an “unfortunate choice of words.” She added that the school administration would “look for ways in which the pupils can practice their religion without others being disturbed or constricted.”
The note was posted on social media, sparking outcry from some who called the measure an attack on religious freedom.
Germany has witnessed a rise in far-right parties in recent years, some of which have co-opted President Donald Trump’s brand of “America First” nationalism.
“America First is coming to Deutschland,” said Dirk Driesang, a member of right-wing populist group Alternative for Germany, in a December address.
The rise of groups like AfD has coincided with a surge in Islamophobia in Germany and around Europe. The party’s platform calls for closing Germany’s borders and fighting what supporters call the “Islamization” of Europe. “Islam does not belong in Germany,” the platform states. AfD also seeks to ban the Muslim call to prayer and require imams to undergo government vetting.
The party’s Wuppertal branch praised the high school’s policy on Muslim students’ prayer, according to Al Jazeera, calling it an “interesting and “sensible” measure.